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The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.
It was customary, in Lucian's time, for the rhetoricians or orators by profession to declaim on any given subject at the command of their superiors, either in public or private; and to this we may attribute the following declamation, in praise of some house (whose it was we know not), probably by desire of the master and his friends, before whom the orator was to show his skill, by an extempore speech on the occasion. It is written, more especially the first part of it, in a kind of flowing measured prose, approaching to blank verse. The whimsical change of persons and Lucian's answering himself in the latter part of this little piece, one cannot so easily account for. The whole, however, is singular and entertaining particularly the description of the pictures in the conclusion. Lucian (for this piece is undoubtedly his), had a warm and poetical imagination, and seems here more peculiarly to indulge it.
- Based on Francklin
As Alexander stood gazing at the transparent loveliness of the Cydnus, the thought of a plunge into those generous depths, of the delicious shock of ice-cold waters amid summer heat, was too much for him; and could he have foreseen the illness that was to result from it, I believe he would have had his bath just the same. With such an example before him, can any one whose pursuits are literary miss a chance of airing his eloquence amid the glories of this spacious hall, wherein gold sheds all its lustre, whose walls are decked with the flowers of art, whose light is as the light of the sun? Shall he who might cause this roof to ring with applause, and contribute his humble share to the splendours of the place,--shall such a one content himself with examining and admiring its beauties without a word, and so depart, like one that is dumb, or silent from envy?
Nothing, surely, could be more delightful than to find this noble building thrown open for the reception of eloquent praise, its atmosphere laden with panegyric, its very walls reechoing, cavern-like, to every syllable, prolonging each cadence, dwelling on each period;--nay, they are themselves an audience, most appreciative of audiences, that stores up the speaker's words in memory, and recompenses his efforts with a meed of most harmonious flattery. Even so do the rocks resound to the shepherd's flute; the notes come ringing back again, and simple rustics think it is the voice of some maid, who dwells among the crags, and from the depths of her rocky haunt makes answer to their songs and their cries.
I feel as if a certain mental exaltation resulted from this magnificence: it is suggestive; the imagination is stimulated. It would scarcely be too much to say that through the medium of the eyes Beauty is borne in upon the mind, and suffers no thought to find utterance before it has received her impress. We hold it for true that Achilles' wrath was whetted against the Phrygians by the sight of his new armour, and that as he donned it for the first time his lust of battle was uplifted on wings: and why should not a beautiful building similarly be a whet to the zeal of the orator? Luxuriant grass, a fine plane-tree and a clear spring, hard by Ilissus, were inspiration enough for Socrates: in such a spot he could sit bantering Phaedrus, refuting Lysias, and invoking the Muses; never doubting--indelicate old person--but that those virgin Goddesses would grace his retirement with their presence, and take part in his amorous discourse. But to such a place as this we may surely hope that they will come uninvited,
But I see about me in this Hall beauties that were never designed to please barbarians, nor to gratify the vulgar ostentation of Persian monarchs. Poverty is not here the sole requirement of the critic: taste is also necessary; nor will the eyes deliver judgement without the assistance of Reason. The eastern aspect, procuring us, as in the temples of old, that first welcome peep of the sun in his new-born glory, and suffering his rays to pour in without stint through the open doors, the adaptation of length to breadth and breadth to height, the free admission of light at every stage of the Sun's course,--all is charmingly contrived, and redounds to the credit of the architect.
And so it is with this Hall. The roof--the head, as I may say,--comely in itself, is not without its golden embellishments: yet they are but as the stars, whose fires gleam here and there, pranked in the darkness of the sky. Were that sky all fire, it would be beautiful to us no longer, only terrible. Observe, too, that the gold is not otiose, not merely an ornament among ornaments, put there to flatter the eye: it diffuses soft radiance from end to end of the building, and the walls are tinged with its warm glow. Striking upon the gilded beams, and mingling its brightness with theirs, the daylight glances down upon us
with a clearness and a richness not all its own.
And for the rest, the frescoed walls, with their exquisite colouring, so clear, so highly finished, so true to nature, to what can I compare them but to a flowery meadow in spring? Even so the comparison halts. Those flowers wither and decay and shed their beauty: but here is one eternal spring; this meadow fades not, its flowers are everlasting; for no hand is put forth to pluck away their sweetness, only the eye feeds thereon. And what eye would not delight to feed on joys so varied? What orator would not feel that his credit was at stake, and so be fired with ambition to surpass himself, rather than be found wanting to his theme?
The contemplation of beautiful objects is of all things the most inspiring, and not to men only. I think even a horse must feel some increase of pleasure in galloping over smooth, soft fields, that give an easy footing, and ring back no defiance to his hoofs: it is then that he goes his best; the beauty of his surroundings puts him on his mettle; he will not be beaten, if pace counts for anything.
The beauty of this Hall has a similar power over the orator, encouraging him, stimulating him to fresh effort, enlarging his ambition. The spell was irresistible: I have yielded to it, and come hither to address you, as though drawn by wryneck's or by Siren's charm; nor am I without hope that my words, bald though they be in themselves, may yet borrow something from that atmosphere of beauty in which they are here clothed as in a garment.
Scarcely have I pronounced these last words, when a certain Theory (and a very sound one, too, if we can take its own word for it), which has been interrupting me all along, and doing its best to break my speech off, informs me that there is no truth in my statements, and expresses its surprise at my assertion that gilding and mural decoration are favourable to the display of rhetorical skill. The very contrary, it maintains, is the case. On second thoughts, it may as well come forward and plead its own cause; you, gentlemen, will kindly serve as jury, and hear what it has to say in favour of the cheap and nasty in architecture, considered as rhetorical conditions. My own sentiments on this subject you have already heard, nor is there any occasion for me to repeat them. The Theory is therefore at liberty to speak; I will withdraw for a while, and hold my tongue.
'Gentlemen of the jury,' it begins, 'a splendid tribute has been paid to this Hall by the last speaker; and I for my part am so far from having any fault to find with the building, that I propose to supply the deficiencies of his encomium; for by magnifying its glories, I am so much the nearer to proving my point, which is, its unsuitableness to the purposes of the orator. And first I shall ask your permission to avail myself of his simile of feminine adornments. In my opinion, it is not enough to say that lavish ornament adds nothing to feminine beauty: it actually takes away from it. Dazzled by gold and costly gems, how should the beholder do justice to the charms of a clear complexion, to neck, and eye, and arm, and finger? Sards and emeralds, bracelets and necklaces, claim all his attention, and the lady has the mortification of finding herself eclipsed by her own jewels, whose engrossed admirers can spare no words, and barely a casual glance for herself.
'Then again, my opponent spoke of the stimulating, the encouraging effect produced on the speaker by architectural beauty. I should have said that the effect was rather dispiriting than otherwise: the speaker's thoughts are scattered, and his confidence shaken, as he reflects on the disgrace that must attach to mean words uttered beneath a noble roof. There could be no more crushing ignominy; he is precisely in the position of a warrior in brilliant armour who sets the example of flight, and whose cowardice is only emphasized by his splendid equipment. To this principle I should refer the conduct of Homer's model orator, who, so far from attaching any importance to externals, affected the bearing of a man that was altogether witless; his design was to bring his eloquence into stronger relief by the studied ungracefulness of his attitude.
'The orator's mind, too, is so engrossed with what he sees, that it is absolutely impossible for him to preserve the thread of his discourse; he cannot think of what he is saying, so imperatively do the sights around him claim his attention. It is not to be expected that he will do himself justice: he is too full of his subject.
Gentlemen of the jury, the Theory hath spoken sooth. Give good heed to that he saith, how sight is a better thing
than bearing; for a man shall sooner trust his eyes than his ears.
'You hear him, gentlemen? He gives the preference to sight, and rightly. For words have wings; they are no sooner out of the mouth than they take flight and are lost: but the delight of the eyes is ever present, ever draws the beholder to itself.
'But my weightiest argument I have kept till now: you, gentlemen, throughout the hearing of this case, have been gazing with admiration on roof and wall, scanning each picture in its turn. I do not reproach you: you have done what every man must do, when he beholds workmanship so exquisite, subjects so varied. Here are works whose perfect technique, applied as it is to the illustration of all that is useful in history and mythology, holds out an irresistible challenge to the judgement of the connoisseur. Now I would not have your eyes altogether glued to those walls; I would fain have some share of your attention: let me try, therefore, to give you word-pictures of these originals; I think it may not be uninteresting to you to hear a description of those very objects which your eyes view with such admiration. And you will perhaps count it a point in my favour, that I, and not my antagonist, have hit upon this means of doubling your pleasure. It is a hazardous enterprise, I need not say,--without materials or models to put together picture upon picture; this word-painting is but sketchy work.
'On our right as we enter, we have a story half Argive, half Ethiopian. Perseus slays the sea-monster, and sets Andromeda free; it will not be long ere he leads her away as his bride; an episode, this, in his Gorgon expedition. The artist has given us much in a small space: maiden modesty, girlish terror, are here portrayed in the countenance of Andromeda, who from her high rock gazes down upon the strife, and marks the devoted courage of her lover, the grim aspect of his bestial antagonist. As that bristling horror approaches, with awful gaping jaws, Perseus in his left hand displays the Gorgon's head, while his right grasps the drawn sword. All of the monster that falls beneath Medusa's eyes is stone already; and all of him that yet lives the scimetar hews to pieces.
'In the next picture, a tale of retributive justice is dramatically set forth. The painter seems to have taken his hint from Euripides or Sophocles; each of them has portrayed this incident. The two young men are friends: Pylades of Phocis, and Orestes, who is thought to be dead. They have stolen into the palace unobserved, and together they slay Aegisthus Clytemnestra has already been dispatched: her body lies, half-naked, upon a bed; all the household stand aghast at the deed; some cry out, others look about for means of escape. A fine thought of the painter's: the matricide is but slightly indicated, as a thing achieved: with the slaying of the paramour, it is otherwise; there is something deliberate in the manner in which the lads go about their work.
'Next comes a more tender scene. We behold a comely God, and a beautiful boy. The boy is Branchus: sitting on a rock, he holds out a hare to tease his dog, who is shown in the act of jumping for it. Apollo looks on, well pleased: half of his smile is for the dog's eagerness, and half for the mischievous boy.
'Once more Perseus; an earlier adventure, this time. He is cutting off Medusa's head, while Athene screens him from her sight. Although the blow is struck, he has never seen his handiwork, only the reflection of the head upon the shield; he knows the price of a single glance at the reality.
'High upon the middle wall, facing the door, a shrine of Athene is modelled. The statue of the Goddess is in white marble. She is not shown in martial guise; it is the Goddess of War in time of peace.
'We have seen Athene in marble: next we see her in painting. She flies from the pursuit of amorous Hephaestus; it was to this moment that Erichthonius owed his origin.
'The next picture deals with the ancient story of Orion. He is blind, and on his shoulder carries Cedalion, who directs the sightless eyes towards the East.
'Then we have Odysseus, seeking by feigned madness to avoid joining the expedition of the Atridae, whose messengers have already appeared to summon him. Nothing could be more convincing than his plough-chariot, his ill-assorted team, and his apparent unconsciousness of all that is going forward. But his paternal feeling betrays him. Palamedes, penetrating his secret, seizes upon Telemachus, and threatens him with drawn sword. If the other can act madness, he can act anger. The father in Odysseus is revealed: he is frightened into sanity, and throws aside the mask.
'Last of all is Medea, burning with jealousy, glaring askance , upon her children, and thinking dreadful thoughts. See, the sword even now is in her hand: and there sit the victims, smiling; they see the sword, yet have no thought of what is to come.
'Need I say, gentlemen, how the sight of all these pictures draws away the attention of the audience upon them, and leaves the orator without a single hearer? If I have described them at length, it was not in order to impress you with the headstrong audacity of my opponent, in voluntarily thrusting himself upon an audience so ill-disposed. I seek not to call down your condemnation nor your resentment upon him, nor do I ask you to refuse him a hearing: rather I would have you assist his endeavours, listen to him, if you can, with closed eyes, and remember the difficulty of his undertaking; when you, his judges, have become his fellow workers, he will still have much ado to escape the imputation of bringing discredit upon this magnificent Hall. And if it seem strange to you that I should plead thus on my antagonist's behalf, you must attribute it to my fondness for this same Hall, which makes me anxious that every man who speaks in it should come off creditably, be he who he may.'